Dick Contino

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Dick Contino
Dick Contino.jpg
Dick Contino, 1965
Background information
Birth name Richard Joseph Contino
Born (1930-01-17)January 17, 1930
Fresno, California, U.S.
Died April 19, 2017(2017-04-19) (aged 87)
Fresno, California, U.S.
Occupation(s) Accordionist, actor
Instruments Accordion

Dick Contino (born Richard Joseph Contino; January 17, 1930 – April 19, 2017)[1] was an American accordionist and singer.

Early years[edit]

Contino was born in Fresno, California. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Contino,[2] and he attended Fresno High School.[3]

He studied accordion primarily with San Francisco-based Angelo Cognazzo, and occasionally with Los Angeles-based Guido Deiro. Early on he exhibited great virtuosity on the instrument. Although he graduated from Fresno High School in 1947 and enrolled at Fresno State College, he was unable to concentrate on his studies. Contino explained, "I enjoyed college, but while attending classes I kept thinking that if I was going to be a success, it would be my music that would take me there."[4]

Contino also played piano, clarinet, and saxophone.[2]

Early career[edit]

Contino got his big break on December 7, 1947, when he played "Lady of Spain" (his signature piece) and won first place in the Horace Heidt/Philip Morris talent contest in Fresno which was broadcast on national radio.[5] Contino also won first place in subsequent competitions in Los Angeles,[2] Omaha,[3] Des Moines,[6] Youngstown,[7] Cleveland,[8] Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and New York City. He won first place in the final round on December 12, 1948 in Washington, D.C. Eddie Fisher had much better success with the song in 1952. Contino's song "Yours" was his first hit single. The song reached #27 on the U.S. pop charts in 1954. His second and only other hit single was "Pledge My Love." It reached #42 on the U.S. pop charts in 1957.

Contino toured with the Horace Heidt Orchestra and was billed as the "world's greatest accordion player." He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show a record 48 times.[citation needed]

Conscription issues[edit]

His success was interrupted when Contino was drafted during the Korean War. Contino, at the time earning a reported $4,000 per week, fled from pre-induction barracks at Fort Ord, due to extreme and unpublicized phobias and neuroses.[9]

In 1951, he was sentenced to serve six months at McNeil Island Corrections Center.[10] He later served in the United States armed forces and being honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant and receiving a Presidential Pardon. The resultant scandal dealt Contino's career a serious blow, but he continued performing, including acting in a few movies in the 1950s and 1960s.[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

Contino's acting became known to a new generation in 1991, when Daddy-O, a low-budget 1958 movie in which he played the starring role as a faddishly-dressed beat rebel and singer, became the centerpiece of an episode of the third season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Contino also was featured in the 1959 film Girls Town along with other musical performers such as Paul Anka and The Platters.

He has continued to perform regularly throughout the United States. His repertoire is eclectic, ranging from Italian songs such as "Come Back to Sorrento" and "Arrivederci Roma" to standards like "Lady of Spain" and "Swinging on a Star".[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Contino was married to Leigh Snowden; they had five children.[11]

Novella and other fictional works[edit]

James Ellroy wrote a novella, Dick Contino's Blues, which is a mini-memoir and crime story based on Contino's experiences as a struggling artist after the war. It is included in the 1994 Ellroy short story collection Hollywood Nocturnes. A version appeared in issue number 46 of Granta magazine (Winter 1994) along with several photographs of Contino and the author. Ellroy also penned a short story entitled Hollywood Shakedown, which appeared in his collected work "Crime Wave" and featured Contino as the central character. The story is entirely fictitious as it features numerous incidents of violence and murder which Contino had never been linked with or accused of in reality.[citation needed]

In January 2012, A Biography of Dick Contino's Life was published... The Beauty of Imperfection Authors Dick J. Contino and Long Time Friend and Music Director Corky Bennett: This is the autobiography of legendary superstar accordionist, Dick Contino, transcribed from audio tape. This no-holds-barred accounting of his life reveals his history, thoughts and anecdotes. The book also reveals his battles with extreme phobias, incarceration, gambling, drinking, and indiscretions. It also details his love affair with actress, Leigh Snowden and their children. The story also includes his current life with his lovely wife, Tonia. Dick Contino has led a very interesting life, to say the least. He became a superstar on the Horace Heidt radio show in the late ‘40s. His subsequent Army problem and prison sentence made major headlines. He became a household name. He was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant and received a Presidential pardon. Many people, still, do not believe he served his country. Dick is not only a world-class musician, but also one of the premier entertainers of our time. He is absolutely magical on stage, garnering standing ovations every show. He exudes warmth and passion beyond belief. He performed on the Ed Sullivan Show more times than any other entertainer. This is a very interesting, intriguing, and compelling story. Dick Contino may be the most misunderstood celebrity of all time. Source: Dick Contino himself...(added by long time Family Friend David Clarish 05/17/17)

Death[edit]

Contino died on April 19, 2017 in Fresno, at the age of 87.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sandomir, Richard (April 30, 2017). "Dick Contino, Accordion Heartthrob, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2018. 
  2. ^ a b c "Fresno Youth Is Victor In Second Talent Contest". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. December 15, 1947. p. 13. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ a b "Fresno Youth Is Victor Again In Talent Contest". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. January 5, 1948. p. 11. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ Dick Contino, cited by Bove, Bob and Angellotti, Lou (1994) Accordion Man: The Legendary Dick Contino. Father and Son Publishing, Inc., Tallahassee. ISBN 0942407296
  5. ^ "Fresno Accordionist Wins $250 Prize On Radio Talent Program". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. December 8, 1947. p. 15. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  6. ^ "Young Accordion Player Again Is Radio Test Victor". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. January 12, 1948. p. 9. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  7. ^ "Contino Does It Again; Wins 8th Amateur Contest". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. January 26, 1948. p. 11. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  8. ^ "Fresno Accordion Player Again Is Contest Winner". The Fresno Bee The Republican. California, Fresno. February 2, 1948. p. 13. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  9. ^ "Contino Offers to Enlist if Allowed to Get Well". Toledo Blade. April 23, 1951. p. 3
  10. ^ "Contino's Parole Application Denied". The Kokomo Tribune. Indiana, Kokomo. Associated Press. November 9, 1951. p. 6. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ "Dick Contino Finds He Still Fights The Battle Of His Past". Santa Cruz Sentinel. California, Santa Cruz. Associated Press. September 10, 1964. p. 5. Retrieved February 26, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  12. ^ Tehee, Joshua (April 21, 2017). "Famed accordionist, Fresno native, Dick Contino has died". The Fresno Bee. Retrieved April 24, 2017. 

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